on the Goulburn
they say, is a wonderful thing. In this respect we all
20/20 vision. Knowledge and wisdom are
acquired from experience, and experience is useless
unless we learn from it.
fishing the Goulburn River for more years than I care
to admit, I am able to provide anecdotes and stories
that give a structure for understanding how this brilliant
river works In the space of a year a few of these will
be the highlights of your sea son. Here are a few I
have had myself.
grubs first begin appearing early January-these caterpillars
are grey/olive with mottled sides. Soon fly fishers
notice them in stomach contents and every time a good
fish is recorded in the journal kept on the counter
of our small fly fishing shop and Guide Centre at Thornton,
a stomach analysis is done and kept in a jar of Methylated
Spirits while we work out what is going on. Caterpillars
(army grubs) are a pest of the grass seed crops that
are planted on the riverbanks.
are called 'Army Grubs', because of their habit of 'marching'
or moving on a front until they reach an obstacle like
a river. We first recognised them on about the fifth
of January '95 so it will be worth looking for them
to recur about the
same time again in '96, depending on the weather. This
is a good method of predicting.
to fish them is experience and memory. Marching army
grubs have the habit of scaling every object by arching
their back and reaching out with the head to feel around.
If there is only space then they simply release their
grip and fall to the ground and continue. This means
that when they reach the river they crawl out on a blade
of grass or twig, feel out into space by extending their
bodies and nodding their head and then dropping with
a 'plop' on the water.
grubs are shocked when they hit the cold water and coil
into a hard round ball as they react, but they only
drift a few metres before uncurling to full length,
giving a weak struggling wiggle.
was a rise. There was another. Two fish were rising
steadily and there was no doubt they were taking grubs.
I had nothing in the box even remotely like a grey green
caterpillar, but a quick strip of an olive Matuka gave
me an elongated green body roughly the size. Unfortunately
it wasn't likely to float, so much dressing and false
casting was needed to keep it anywhere near the top.
It drifted past the first trout a couple of centimetres
below the surface. Nothing.
drying and casting and the same thing again. Nothing.
On the third cast I allowed it to drift downstream to
where the second fish had been rising and as I raised
the rod to pick up I was solidly into a fish that walked
on the surface tail first for a metre much to my shock.
Learning from this, after putting back a fat little
brown about half a kilo, I moved upstream to where I
could actually see the riser.
nice fish of about a kilo was rising to every caterpillar
that was drifting past. Sighting upstream I could see
the dimple plops of grubs going in, so I thought that
despite being pressed for time I would have an hour
of fantastic fishing. Twenty minutes later and countless
refusals, I had put him down. At no time was he going
to take a sunken fly. The heavy hook of the Matuka had
next few days were bliss with many fly fishers taking
advantage of the fact that the army grubs were 'on',
if were prepared to walk and look for the places where
they were falling in the river.
didn't take long at the tying bench to develop a range
of caterpillar patterns- the best one proved to be olive
chenille with a twist of deer hair for flotation clipped
and trimmed. A tiny hackle a front from a ginger Metz
cape and were ready to test it out. It worked like a
gem and soon it became a feature daily report. It is
now carried in our boxes from Christmas day onwards,
ready for that moment when the river runs high, the
days are hot and 'army' comes marching by.
second entry of note that typifies months of the fishing
on the Goulburn through January and February is hopper
season. It begins in late December when small immature
'hoppers swarm around the edges of the high flowing
river. Paddocks with cattle in them are best.
seem untroubled by stock on the banks hut a human shadow
or profile on the sky will spook them fast! Trout love
to hear the splat of a 'hopper on the surface. They
peel off the stony bottom and come up looking for the
As the hot north wind blows
from the centre of the Australian continent down across
the southern states and the dry grass crackles in the
heat, locust hopper converge on the green strip that
is the edge of the Goulburn. Damp and cold is the 'hoppers
enemy, they become lethargic and die. Hot and dry is
the grasshopper's delight. Flying in clouds they clatter
out over the river, banking and turning in the wind,
losing altitude as they struggle against the wind to
make it back.
they are at their peak in January and February most
can make it, except for one or two that hit the water
with a 'splot' and drift helplessly downstream alongside
the hank, kicking and struggling until that big dark
shape rises up underneath them, and in a second is gone
leaving only a swirl and spreading rings to show where
he has been.
feeders are as selective and consistent as those that
sip baetis or blue winged olives. When God created deer
hair he put it on a deer so it would grow and be nourished
in order to be ready for the 'hopper season. This is
its primary purpose. Australia was introduced to deer
hair flies in the late 1950s when a fly called a 'Missoulin
Spook' appeared. This huge deer hair fly was closely
followed by the 'Muddler Minnow, which had a clipped
deer hair head.
the Muddler as a grasshopper was only a short step and
then tying our own version with grasshopper wings, head
and legs with a yellow chenille body saw them in wide
use by the early 1960s.
patterns have emerged since but the original Knobby
hopper', still ranks as one of the best flies for the
Goulburn in summer. Tie them big and put them down with
a plop. Most 'hopper ties hear little resemblance to
the big locust hoppers that inhabits the green fringes
of the Goulburn as it runs hard and high, clear and
deep. There are many 'hopper patterns and they continually
develop as new materials provide foam bodies and plastic
wings hut the deer hair 'Knobby' with its low but unsinkable
buoyancy places its part way through the surface
third notable event that occurs on the Goulburn in the
spring and autumn is the huge hatch of duns. These large
immature mayflies hatch from their nymphal shucks and
emerge on the water's surface where their ungainly wings
flutter as they crawl out through the surface skin.
Like hundreds of sail boats they float down the runs,
awkwardly taking flight only to crash-land a metre or
so away. Pale and creamy in colour they are the duns
of the orange and red and black spinners.
fish prefer these dons to the mature adults and once
the rise is on they will settle down to slurp the duns
with gusto. Like the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht
Race, a flotilla of upright little sails drift down
the bubble line only to he sipped off the surface by
active little fish, or sucked under with a dimple rise
by a monster lurking hard against the bank.
start in November and continue on until the higher levels
of the irrigation season in later December when the
water levels rise and become colder despite summer temperatures.
These duns are always present on the Goulburn but the
halcyon days for them are in spring. After the summer
irrigation season is over and the levels fall, the duns
appear again in vast clouds. There is the end of March
through to April to look forward to. From the Pondage
through to Alexandra, the dun hatch offers an exciting
time with the greatest concentration being between Thornton
and the Breakaway. These times are brief but the fishing
is equal to anywhere in the world and this is rightly
ranked with the caddis hatch on the Shannon Rise, the
Green Drakes on the Madison in Montana or the Iron Blue
duns of the English chalk streams.
provide some really exciting fishing as they entice
the trout to reveal their position in the run. The mature
sedge or 'Grannom Moth' is a large pale brown fluttering
insect with two pronounced antennae. They have the habit
of 'dipping' on the water. This happens twice. Once
when they are hatching, when they fly upstream for about
a metre only to crash with a flutter on the surface,
drift hack, and then take off again.
behaviour continues fluttering further and further upstream
until they achieve full flight. The second stage is
when they are egg laying. They dip down onto the water
over a fast run and appear to bounce themselves up and
down on the surface. Closer examination reveals a bright
green egg sac attached to their rear from which eggs
are deposited into the water by this action. These grannoms
send the fish crazy by this activity. They take them
as they hatch, as they skate along trying to take off,
and as they are egg laying.
quiet trout may be lying on station minding his own
business when one of these grannoms will start his activities
directly overhead. You can almost hear him grinding
his teeth, rolling his eyes and trembling his lip until
he can stand it no longer and makes a wild slashing
snap at this tantalising insect. They incite rainbows
of about half a kilo that have developed the knack of
jumping clear of the water to snap them in mid air.
Goulburn fly fishers love it when the grannoms are on.
They stalk the fast runs watching for the slashing risers
as well as fishing blind across the likely lies. Using
a large March brown on a size 10 or 12, they plop it
down like the behaviour of the natural. Tied with partridge
hackle the big March brown or Hardies Favourite can
be improved with a green ball of dubbing at the bend
of the hook.
the sedge having wings that fold down flat the March
Brown appears to be fluttering still at least that must
be what the trout think because they take them with
a 'chomp'. Often methods develop that work well despite
not being strictly according to theory. It is better
to build on and further explore things that work rather
than stick with a theory that doesn't produce a thing.
The skating caddis is a good case in point. The elk
hair caddis is an excellent pattern to take fish that
are on caddis, but it works much better if it is placed
beyond the rise and dragged into their line of vision
before allowing the drift to continue across the rising
fish. A drifted only fly will hardly take a fish, whereas
a skated fly will more likely induce a strike. By the
way, an elk hair caddis tied large with a green dubbing
ball on the tail doubles as a grannom moth too.
and Poking Around
high water allows you to use polarising sunglasses to
see into the Goulburn to depths of two metres or more.
This quality is unique as the Goulburn is a tail water
that delivers water from the bottom of Lake Eildon where
sediment has long since settled. When the Murray Darling
basin demands irrigation water in the height of summer,
the Goulburn flows at its peak. As the river rises up
the banks to meet this demand the fish follow. Poking
into flooded backwaters and drains they seek out drowned
insects and grubs.
dry weather brings out the gum beetles as they emerge
from the pastures and around the bases of the red gum
trees that line banks. The air fairly hums with beetles
as the cock open their wing cases and buzz around the
trees in swarms. Awkwardly they crash into each other
or obstructions that see them fall into the water only
to buzz in vibrating circles until they are washed downstream
under the willows and along the high banks.
beetles, tiny little iridescent blue beetles, soldier
beetles with bright yellow abdomens and thoraxes with
a steel grey glistening helmet and coat, Scarabs and
dung beetles, Christmas beetles and tea-tree beetles,
all share the same fate, to be washed into a corner
is where the fun starts. Occupying this rich ecological
niche where food is concentrated, is the typical Goulburn
trout. While the babies race around jumping in the fast
runs and the kilo fish hang in the glides and bubble
lines, the bigger fish plus cruise a beat in these backwaters.
Lazily they drift through the still water, with an occasional
twitch of the tail to propel them slowly, or hang motionless
under the bank, their gills the only movement to give
them away, until a beetle, suspended on a greased leader
and tied with peacock hurl, drifts ever so slowly into
their window. The heart pounds and the adrenalin rises,
even before he has noticed the fly. This 'window fishing',
or 'aquarium fishing', is a Goulburn delight that requires
stealth and eye ball contact with the fish. You must
not pound the bank as the slightest bump is transferred
to the water. Shadows and profiles must be positioned
so that none hit the water.
can be in pairs with one calling the shots from a vantage
point with only a nose and the polarising sunglasses
over the bank.
for cast leaders are tangled or flies are hung up when
shot at the metre square opening that is not overgrown.
Finally when one gets a cast in, the philosophy is,
'Get 'em on first and worry about getting them out later,'
Inhaling the size 14 beetle by expanding his gills,
he hangs motionless as, 'He's got it,' causes the caster
to raise the rod and set the hook. Pandemonium.
Goulburn is a glorious river. Big and fast at its peak
in summer, low and clear in autumn, brilliant in spring.
These brief episodes are only a taste of what the Goulburn
has to offer. Beetles, caddis, stonefly, and countless
others continue to provide great sport as they hatch
and develop and the fish find them.